The start of the new year in Summit County brings with it multiple diversions, from enjoying the powder on the slopes to exploring Main Street shops. Yet another exciting options is an upcoming film festival celebrating the outdoors and those who love to challenge themselves and explore.
The Winter Wildlands Alliance Backcountry Film Festival is on Jan. 12 at the Eileen and Paul Finkel Auditorium at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge. An after-party at The Warming Hut in Breckenridge will follow.
This is the ninth year for the festival, which originated in Boise, Idaho, by the Winter Wildlands Alliance, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and preserving winter wildlands and human-powered snowsports. After premiering in Boise, the films move on to more than 100 showings around the U.S. and the world, according to events and outreach coordinator Shelley Pursell. Each show funds local nonprofits with like-minded ventures such as avalanche awareness, outdoor programs and youth education. All the films fall under the category of human-powered snowsports, meaning no helicopters, no snowmobiles, no machines — just pure human will.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Pursell said of the film styles and themes, which range from messages of environmental conservation to celebrations of the backcountry lifestyle. The filmmakers, also, range from amateur to professional.
This year’s overall festival winner is the film “Valhalla,” which takes an artistic look at backcountry enthusiasts. The trailer features a poetic voiceover and scenes of skiers and riders reveling in deep powder. The film has already won two awards from the Powder Awards film festival in Salt Lake City, Utah, — Best Editing and Movie of the Year.
Pursell’s personal favorite entry in this year’s festival is the two-minute documentary “Bigger, Braver,” by amateur filmmaker Luc Mehl. The documentary-style film features Alaskan skier Erica Madison and the challenges she faces as a woman in a male-dominated sport.
Mehl cut an hour-long interview with Madison into two minutes, focusing on her message of determination.
“Mostly, it’s hoping that others, athletes, will relate to her because of strength and motivation and come out of it with some empowerment,” he said of the intended impact of his film. “I know Erica really well, and I know she’s got a lot of things that she can offer friends and other athletes, so really she gets all the credit for that (message of feminine empowerment), that message came straight from her.”
Proceeds from the festival in Summit County will go toward the Backcountry Babes scholarship program, which donates the cost of avalanche education clinics to women who cannot afford to attend the outdoor educational workshops on their own.
“We’re just trying to be able to help promote getting more women safely into the backcountry and to be able to travel and have more knowledge, as well as get them into more professional careers in that industry, if they’re interested,” said Jenna Boisvert, owner of Backcountry Babes. As for this year’s selections, “I feel like I’m always inspired by all of the films that they choose to do in their film festival because they are really homegrown, down-to-earth sort of concepts. … I’ve always liked their choice of films because they’re pretty touching and moving and have a real full storyline behind them. I think just about anybody who has a passion for snow or film or even just art would enjoy these films.”